Reacting to the Bias

Resurrected Response Category: 

This picture of Jesus hung in the hallway
of my childhood home. I was convinced
that his eyes followed me wherever I was,
and I was terrified of the picture. The
Sacred Heart, however, intrigued me, and
I have always been intrigued by it.  

As a youth, I was subject to the extreme biases that came with parochial school life, as I went to a Catholic school that had a high percentage of  upper-class students. Uniforms were required at my school in an effort to eliminate social class restrictions, but the uniform code did not mandate which styles of shoes could be worn, so many students were subject to the pitfalls of gauging social class by shoe brand names. I remember joining the crowd to make fun of the kids who wore imitation Vans, and that bred in me a disdain for Skechers that lives today. Looking back, however, I find it odd that I teased some of my peers because their parents couldn’t afford to buy them expensive, checkered shoes; while, in the same vein, I wore clothes that my mother made for me.   

In her article, “Writing on the Bias”, Brodkey uses the parameanings of bias to parallel her social life to reading, writing, and learning methods. Brodkey’s article shows me how she cut against cultural, class, and gender grains on her way to becoming an accomplished writer, scholar, and teacher. Her article urges readers to transcend biased restraints while writing, whether they are ideological restraints or the militant-style application of rules which was popular during the Cold War Era. Students become more receptive to instruction when they are allowed to explore--when rules and structure are not forced upon them.

When I first read her article, Brodkey initially led me to believe that I was reading about her cultural experiences; the fact that she transcended the seemingly unconquerable boundaries set by culture, class, and gender ideologies. I believed that her bias was solely an ideological bias, having nothing to do with the bias that tailors refer to when judging the quality of a cut on a piece of fabric. The tailor’s biasing cuts a 45-degree angle across the grain of fabric, which makes for neater-looking garments. My old Levi’s happen to be cut on the bias. The use of bias, as in ideological modes and in tailoring is imperative, while the militantly-strict implementation of rules must be avoided in an effort to teach students how to write engaging prose (546-547).

In transcending socially instituted rules, the working-class populace, comprised of various ethnicities and a large portion of America’s single mothers, has an advantage over higher social classes when using the bias to their advantage. Brodkey had such a start by being a Polish, working-class woman.  Her physical and fantastical transcendence into higher social classes provided her with insight on both the ideological strains in America and on the methods of classroom instruction. 

As a child, Brodkey broke social constraints; or, at a minimum, was an overachiever, something of a social misfit. She was able to read and write before she started school, and she attempted to read ahead in classes (536). She used reading as a social function by taking mock census’, reading in the kitchen during meal preparation time, and by reading with her mother, while she sewed (538-539). Brodkey was able to extend her limits and go beyond her social constraints. Leisure reading and dancing are activities that are not reserved for the working class. Reading any book that she could get her hands on, coupled with reading ahead and taking up dancing were not merely transcendental actions--they were defiant moves against the instituted norms of society. Breaking societal rules and transcending the class barriers through vigorous reading is what helped Brodkey adapt to college life.  Reading about the middle-class helped her to fit in and master the bourgeois house-language (540).

While the cold war helped to indoctrinate Linda Brodkey into higher social classes, rule-laden, middle-class instruction was still forced upon her during her tenure as a college preparatory student during the Cold War Era (540). I too, remember the numerous standardized batteries, as well as the instruction given to me by nuns whose goals seemingly were to turn students into red-blooded, God-fearing, United States working machines. 

I loathed parochial school with its strict rules, eight-point grading scales, nuns, uniforms, and the skill-and-drill pedagogy that relegated students to consumers of, not participants in, education. I loathed the educational atmosphere. School was more of an institution rather than a place to expand intellectual capabilities. 

Likewise, Brodkey discusses the constraints that biases and rules that impacted her education.  Isolating and imposing grammar rules on students, for example, places too much emphasis on form rather than content, stymying intellectual growth and expression. Cutting across the bias may proffer a learning environment conducive to much-needed exploration and intellectual expansion. Encouraging students to write, and then using usage conventions as guides, rather than instructional barriers, might give students a more positive connection to learning and effectively expressing that learning in writing.

The ability of Brodkey to recognize the barriers that she surpassed during her childhood is the keynote of her essay. The ability to cut against the bias, eliminating the reliance on set guidelines, whether they are social, ideological, or educational, is needed to foster a classroom environment that is more conducive to active learning. The elimination of heavy reliance on regulation, coupled with ruler-spankings must be eschewed in favor of more student participation in a guidance-oriented classroom.